Playing An Old Word Game
IT's a predictable pattern. Three weeks after the Tehelka controversy rocked the nda boat, home minister L.K. Advani went public with his introspection. He told a TV channel: "Our first reaction that there was a conspiracy behind the Tehelka tapes was a wrong response..."
Obviously, what Advani didn't tell the viewers was that it was Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who, in his initial kneejerk reaction, floated the conspiracy theory. Vajpayee's comment was flashed on page one of most newspapers: "Daal mein kuch kaala hai"—indicating conspiracy.
Such veiled criticism of the government is now familiar tactics for Advani. He did this during the Kandahar hijack and on all three occasions of the ceasefire extension.
Even post-Tehelka, Advani baulked at attacking the PM directly, but made public his disagreement over the government's handling of Armsgate: "The 48-hour delay was tactically and strategically wrong."
Similarly, during the hijack drama, Advani emerged as one of the staunchest defenders of the government. Yet his angst was leaked to the media. His hard line on the ceasefire has been all over the press though he's publicly restrained on the issue.
Ditto Tehelka. Despite distancing himself from the way the government handled the issue, Advani and his men played crucial damage-control roles. Since the PM was busy meeting Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan, it was Advani who dealt with the bjp MPs. Again, the likes of Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Shourie defended the party in the media. Barring Mahajan, the others are Advani loyalists.
One reason why the government's defence fell to the home minister was because the pmo itself was under attack.
With Bangaru Laxman out of reckoning, Advani is expected to strengthen his control over the party too. Laxman's Nagpur line may have pleased the PM but it antagonised the hardliners. Unlike Laxman, the new president, Jana Krishnamurthy, won't have any use for the pmo's Sudheendra Kulkarni to write his speeches.
There is logic in Advani defending the government publicly and yet subtly articulating his differences with the PM. For, if the government were to collapse, there would be no legacy for him to inherit.